As a dietitian of 24 years, I believe in supporting intentional weight loss if someone wants it. There are situations where it’s not appropriate – like, if it’s going to cause physical and/or emotional harm. But for many people, it’s something that has caused them decades of stress and anxiety.
The reality is that most of us have wanted to lose weight at some point in our lives, and as we get older, it seems like it’s a tougher goal to accomplish. Between busy lives, hormones, and decades of bad diet information crowding our brains, it’s hard not to be lured away from healthy habit building in favor of big promises and claims.
So many diets are restrictive, and most of them focus on minutia instead of on real healthy habits that can lead to weight loss. It’s the work of habits that I prioritize with clients, not giving them rules and meal plans and shopping lists and a diet that they won’t be able to follow for the long-term.
I don’t want someone to have to keep coming back to me – my job is to educate them, ensure that they clean up their sh*t around food, eating, and their bodies, and then let them ride off into the sunset. Encouraging them to do multiple rounds of my program to ‘lose more weight!’ (*ahem* we all know certain programs that do this *ahem*) or retaining them for years as a 1:1 client I think is unethical and an indicator that my method isn’t really working.
If you focus on the wrong thing, and you don’t do the basic work, you’ll continue to be dependent on diets. You’ll be stuck in the same cycle until you find a way to break out of it.
In my experience, focusing on healthy habit building versus weight loss as the ultimate goal, is the way to finding your comfortable weight and living your best life. We do this by starting at the beginning, learning and re-learning basic habits and skills that will stick for life. That way, you won’t keep falling for diets.
The way I help people self-manage their nutrition is to teach them about and help them to correct these (and more!) very common weight loss mistakes:
Not doing the (most important) work.
By far, the biggest weight loss mistake I see with people who want to lose weight is not doing the work to clean out their closet. This can also be called, ‘finding your negative core beliefs…and neutralizing them.’
We’ve been trained by the diet industry to just choose a diet plan and start it when we want to lose weight. We’ve been conditioned to chase the next shiny thing that promises to ‘take the weight off forever’ and ‘transform our lives.’
As a lot of you know, these promises rarely come true. We go on whatever diet plan is popular, and we might lose weight, but whatever we’re doing is unsustainable.
That’s because most of us can’t just hop on an eating plan for weight loss and be successful for the long-term without doing the work behind the scenes. By that I mean, figuring out our relationship with food and our bodies.
Why do we feel the need to go on punishing diets?
How often are we engaging in negative self talk, and what is that talk saying?
What do we think is going to happen if we lose weight?
How was the attitude towards food, eating, and bodies in our house when we were growing up?
What are our beliefs around weight and food?
Our core beliefs around these things affect a lot of the decisions we make about how we treat ourselves, the food choices we make, and our desire to look a certain way. Before we figure out the ‘what and how to eat’ part, we need to make sure we’re starting from a place that’s emotionally healthy.
When we don’t do this work, all of this stuff we haven’t worked on is still there, like an app refreshing in the background (and using up our battery). This is a huge reason why a lot of people can’t seem to lose weight and keep it off (besides the fact that the actual diets are faulty).
This work can be painful and exhausting. It more often than not entails going back to your childhood and really taking a hard look at what you were told about food and bodies. I sometimes have to refer people to counselling for help with it. It’s not fun, which is why a lot of people would rather avoid it and just jump on another diet, crossing their fingers that this one will be THE ONE.
That and, many of you probably don’t even realize that you have emotional stuff around eating that you need to address.
This work is an essential stepping stone for healthy habits and a more balanced way of looking at food and your body. It frees up space in your brain to set realistic goals and not have harmful beliefs and other peoples’ expectations distract you. It sets you on the path to understand what really matters to you, not to everyone else.
Overeating in anticipation of being hungry.
One of the biggest weight loss mistakes is overeating out of fear.
Diet culture has done a lot of things to our relationships with food, and some of these things are instilling a lack of trust in our bodies, and the fear of being flexible with our eating
One of the most common issues I see with clients is that they load up their plates at meals, which leads to overeating, all because they don’t want to be hungry later on. For so long, they’ve depended on external cues like meal plans and calorie budgets. Now, they don’t trust themselves to listen to their bodies and eat the ‘right’ amount of food to satiate themselves.
Nobody wants to be hungry an hour after they eat, and if you’re eating a balanced meal with adequate food, this shouldn’t be happening. But that’s not what’s happening here:
I’m talking about people overshooting their mark because they’re afraid that they’ll be hungry in 3 or 4 hours and they won’t be ‘allowed’ to snack. Or that this hunger will somehow mean that they’ve ‘failed’ or that they’re doomed to starve until their next meal.
These fears mean that they automatically fill their plate with food without checking their hunger levels first. Once the food is in front of them, they eat it all.
It’s a feast or famine mindset based in fear, gifted to them by all of the diets they’ve ever been on.
The first thing I teach people to do is to understand that they don’t need to be afraid of hunger.
If they’re hungry between meals, they can eat something.
If they finish their meal and they need more food, that’s okay! They aren’t locked in to specific portions and calorie budgets.
Some days they may be hungrier than others, that’s how our bodies work. That’s not how diets work though, which is why they give the same calorie budget for each day (and calorie budgets at all – I never give those).
I also teach people to gauge their hunger before, during, and after meals.
How hungry are they before they plate their food? Dish out a portion that they believe is appropriate (not more or less).
How hungry are they as they eat? Are they satiated mid-meal? Near the end-point? When the food is gone?
At the end of the meal, do they feel satiated? Are they satisfied? These two things aren’t the same.
Satiated is a physical feeling we get when our stomachs are full.
Satisfied is a psychological feeling when we’ve eaten something that we enjoy, and that nourishes us emotionally.
Ideally, meals will have both of these things. Not all meals will, but it’s a good goal to have.
Eating in tune with your hunger comes down to re-learning flexibility and body trust, two habits that are taken from us from years of following external cues like diet rules, meal schedules, and portion limits.
Overeating to satisfy macro or nutrient recommendations.
Another reason why people overeat is because they have an idea that they need to eat X grams of X nutrient at each meal, and they want to follow that rule.
It looks like this:
A person will make their breakfast with a volume of food that works for them, and a good balance of nutrients.
They’ll then realize that they may need more protein/vegetables/whatever to ‘follow the rules’ that they’ve been given, so they add more food on top of what they intended on eating. It ends up being more food than they need.
While I and other dietitians do give recommendations for some macronutrients – for example, 25-30 grams of protein per meal – some meals just won’t satisfy those recommendations, and that’s okay.
Dietitians like me do a dance between needing to give people guidelines, and helping them understand that those are just that – guidelines – which will probably not be met at every single meal. That’s normal and okay.
We all sometimes eat meals that are heavy on one macronutrient and light on the others. It’s totally normal! If all you want is pizza, don’t feel like you have to add a salad if you don’t want to or if you aren’t hungry enough for it. Eat your vegetables at another meal.
If one egg is what you want, please don’t add a cup of yogurt to your meal just to meet your protein requirements. You’ll be okay – even if you need a snack later.
The most important thing is the balance of food on our plate and that the portion we serve ourselves is congruent with our hunger. We don’t need to check off each gram of fiber or protein in every single meal and snack.
One thing all of these weight loss mistakes have in common is that they happen when we don’t understand and/or don’t listen to our bodies. Diet culture takes that piece out of the equation in order to sell you an ideal and a messed-up roadmap to get to some imaginary place that nobody can seem to find.
What I’m describing instead is a process to find your comfortable weight and stay there. This process isn’t linear, and it takes time. There are no quick fixes, and there’s no getting around what needs to be addressed.
While we want to believe (and we’ve been made to believe) that eating and losing and maintaining weight is simple, it isn’t.
In fact, any diet that tells you how ‘simple’ it makes weight loss, is already shaming you for failing. None of that is ‘simple.’
Flexibility, an understanding of what normal eating is, the ability to understand the originals of and then quiet the negative self-talk, and learning how to trust your body are all important in being able to implement health-promoting habits that last.
If you’re interested in working on any or all of these things, a therapist or dietitian who specializes in this area can help you. My book and course also cover them.
My next Eating After 40 session begins in October, 2023. Get onto the waiting list here.